One of the most important rights you or a loved one may have following a car accident is the right to bring a lawsuit against that person for causing the wreck and any physical, emotional, mental, and/or property damage you may have suffered as a result. This right/ability is sometimes referred to as the right to sue – to initiate a car accident legal suit – and the exercise of this right is one of the primary means in most states whereby car accident victims are able to obtain compensation for their losses. However, many first-time car accident victims are confused about this right – if they do indeed have the ability to sue, and (if so) how to do so.
Negligence – What Triggers the Right to Sue
Speaking in general terms, a person injured in a car accident lawsuit will have the right to sue other parties or drivers involved in the accident if those other parties or drivers acted in a negligent – that is, careless – way and this negligent behavior led to the car accident. Determining whether certain behavior is negligent is not always easy: while speeding, violating traffic laws, texting while driving, and other similar conduct will usually be found to be negligent conduct, other times the demarcation line between reasonable behavior and careless driving is not so clear. If the other driver or party in the accident did something that a reasonably careful and prudent driver would not have done if placed in the same situation, then the driver’s/party’s behavior will likely be considered negligent.
Determine Whether You Live in a No-Fault Insurance State
Drivers who live in Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, or Utah live in so-called “no-fault insurance” states. In these states, the legislatures have determined that victims of car accidents (generally speaking) should not have the right to sue the other driver(s) involved in the accident for compensation. Instead, a car accident victim from any of these states will file a claim with his or her own car insurance carrier. That carrier will then pay its insured’s claim, regardless of who was at fault in causing the accident. While this type of insurance system generally results in the injured party or parties receiving compensation more quickly, it can leave injured motorists with compensation that does not fully address all of their losses due to the policies’ limits.
Even in no-fault insurance states, however, injured motorists may still have the ability to sue the at-fault party who caused the accident in certain circumstances. For example, in the State of Florida an injured motorist or passenger involved in a wreck who suffers serious, catastrophic, permanent, and/or disfiguring injuries can pursue a lawsuit against the driver responsible for the accident – the state’s no-fault insurance laws notwithstanding.
File a Lawsuit Before the Statute of Limitations Expires
Another important limitation on a car accident victim’s right to sue is the applicable statute of limitations. Each state has a statute of limitations that applies to car accident cases. The statute of limitations tells the car accident victim how long he or she has after the accident occurs to sue the at-fault driver for compensation. For example, New York has a three-year statute of limitations for car accident victims. A car accident victim in New York, then, has three years from the date his or her injury accident occurs to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. If the victim fails to do so within that three-year period, then the victim’s right to sue will be extinguished and it may be impossible for that person to obtain monetary compensation through the court system. Therefore, one should make note of the applicable statute of limitations as soon as possible after a car accident to ensure one’s right to sue is not lost.
The Right to Sue May Remain Even if the Victim is Partly to Blame
Sometimes, a car accident occurs because more than one person acted carelessly or recklessly. For instance, you may have been speeding to get through an intersection when someone turned right in front of you. Both your speed as well as the other person’s improper turn could be seen as causes of the accident. States handle these types of situations differently:
- Some states hold that the injury victim has a right to sue the other party even if the victim is the primary cause of the accident;
- Other states (only a few) hold that if the injury victim is in any way responsible for causing the accident or contributing to his or her injuries, then the victim may not recover any compensation whatsoever;
- The majority of states take a middle road between these two extremes and hold that an injury victim is entitled to recover compensation so long as the victim is not the one primarily responsible for the accident.
Except in the most unusual of circumstances, the judge or jury hearing the lawsuit will determine how much blame or responsibility each party involved in the accident bears. This determination will be made by examining all of the facts leading up to the accident and considering whether the accident would have occurred and/or whether the injury victim’s losses and injuries would have been as severe as they were if the victim and/or the other party had acted in a more prudent and careful manner.
Do not jeopardize your opportunity to receive a monetary recovery for your injuries. Instead, reach out to the dedicated legal team at Parker Waichman LLP for assistance with your car accident lawsuit.
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Did you or a loved one suffer an injury due to an accident caused by a negligent driver? Parker Waichman LLP helps victims and families receive justice and full monetary compensation for harm caused by an accident. Trust your case with our motor vehicle accident lawyers. For a free consultation, contact our law firm today by using our live chat or calling 1-800-YOUR-LAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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